Bone spurs, or osteophytes, are small, smooth projections that develop on the surface of a normal bone. Bone spurs can develop for a variety of reasons. One of the most common reasons is in response to friction – for instance, the friction that occurs within arthritic joints that have lost their smooth coating of cartilage. When joints develop arthritis, the exposed bones within the joint rub against each other and create friction. That’s when the body may build up extra bone in an attempt to strengthen the joint. The growths of bone are called bone spurs, although this term is not entirely accurate, since bone spurs are not sharp like a spur. As bone spurs grow larger, however, they can protrude into the nearby tissues, causing pain and other uncomfortable symptoms.
A bone spur can develop on virtually any bone in your body, including the vertebrae of the spine. When bone spurs develop on the bones in the spine, they can compress a nerve root or the spinal cord itself. This compression – and not the bone spur – is typically what causes pain and discomfort.